The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Posts Tagged ‘Palestinian Authority

Israeli-Palestinian talks – A very troubling “compromise”

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The sheer amount of media reports about these talks has been deafening, and the amount of comment has been an absolute deluge, to the point where I have been reluctant to write about it (until now), due to the difficulty of contributing something new to the discussion. However, a new piece of information has come to light that I could prove very important to the future of talks and solutions.

These past few days has seen a flurry of reporting, and to-ing and fro-ing, about an article filed by David Makovsky for the Washington Institute of Near-East Affairs:

According to senior U.S. officials, the administration’s efforts culminated in a draft letter negotiated with Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak and chief Israeli peace negotiator Yitzhak Molcho, and ultimately sent from President Obama’s desk to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

At its core, the draft letter offers a string of assurances to Israel in return for a two-month moratorium extension. More specifically, U.S. officials indicate that the document makes commitments on issues ranging from current peace and security matters to future weapons deliveries in the event that peace-related security arrangements are reached.

As agencies picked up the article, the White House issued a denial that there was any letter sent. As noted in that Haaretz report, Mahmoud Abbas and Saeb Erekat have repeatedly stated that they will leave talks unless an Israeli moratorium on settlement construction is extended, and the White House has been desperate to see such an extension so that talks can continue.

Outlets are now reporting that a deal is in fact on the table, whether or not a physical letter was sent. Politico’s Laura Rozen has a translation of a report in Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv up at her blog. The report is dated several days ago. The money graf, emphasis Rozen’s:

Sources close to the negotiations said that the American package includes a compromise for both parties on the issue of a construction freeze in exchange for a written American commitment to support the parties on other issues that are important to them in later stages of the negotiations. The sources said that in exchange for a compromise on the issue of extending the moratorium, Israel apparently demanded a written American commitment to support its demands on a number of issues, such as recognition of Israel as the Jewish people’s nation-state and security strategies that pertain to defending the eastern border of the Palestinian state. The Palestinians demanded, apparently, American commitments on the issues of borders and Jerusalem, in exchange for their concession regarding the discontinuance of the complete construction moratorium.

The WaPo report says:

Among other inducements, the administration has proposed that there be a lengthy “transitional period” for security on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state, a plan that would presumably include Israeli troops. The United States would also promise military hardware and pledge to veto U.N. resolutions relating to Arab-Israeli peace for a year.

As part of the package, Israel would agree to extend a partial freeze on settlement growth for 60 days.

While both are reporting that Netanyahu has not yet agreed to the offer, to me it seems quite troubling.

The Palestinians have repeatedly said that Israeli troops on Palestinian land would be unacceptable in any peace agreement. Various alternative ideas have been floated, including demilitarisation for a Palestinian state (effectively reducing it to a paper tiger and affecting its legitimacy as a state altogether) and/or international peacekeeping troops, both along the border and in sensitive parts of Jerusalem.

Military hardware is, of course, nothing new, and neither is the veto-ing of UN resolutions. Already the US has been blocking anything critical of Israel in the UN on the tenuous basis that it might “harm peace talks”. A written agreement, however, to block these things for an entire year is a serious smack in the face to international institutions that further entrenches the concept of American exceptionalism as a norm (which also extends to allies like Israel).

What’s most troubling, however, is the promise to officially recognise Israel as “the Jewish people’s nation-state”. The call for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state has come loudest from Israel’s controversial hardline Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, a West Bank settler and crazy UN speech maker.

Officially recognising Israel as a “Jewish state” is troubling for a number of reasons. Firstly, it affects the key Palestinian request of the right of return, and while, in my opinion, it’s the most unreasonable Palestinian request and the most likely to face the axe, it’s still a key part of their negotiating position.

Furthermore, such recognition by the US would only serve to undermine further the tenuous claims that Israel is a “Western-style democracy” and has “similar values” to the US, a call frequently made in defense of the “special relationship”. If separation of church & state is a key element of America’s identity, how can an expressly ethno-religious basis for Israel’s identity be considered “similar”?

Most worryingly, such recognition will dramatically affect the standing of over a million Arab, non-Jewish, citizens of Israel. There are already numerous Israeli laws that discriminate against Israeli citizens of Arab descent, placing them outside the state by virtue of its internationally recognised identity would serve to only further entrench this discrimination.

And making all these concessions on behalf of the Palestinians just for a 60 day extension on illegal construction of settlements in occupied land, that probably won’t be adhered to anyway, so that manifestly uneven peace talks can continue seems completely ludicrous. Make no mistake, these concessions should not be treated lightly, but it seems that, in its self-serving drive to score brownie points for “peace in the Middle East”, the Obama Administration is doing just that.

Did Arafat & Abbas ‘fail’ by rejecting previous offers?

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Those of you who are purveyors of arguing either side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will know what i mean when I say that it’s a frustrating and cyclical thing to get worked up in a lather over. From my perspective, I feel so many people on ‘the other side’ wheel out the same tried and tested arguments, many of which seem hopelessly inane.

One of the arguments that has always carried relatively more weight with me is the whole: “Arafat blew it in 2000 when Barak offered him a state and Abbas blew it when Olmert offered him a state, what can the Palestinians expect if their leaders are always walking away when a state is actually on the table, ready to be signed?”

A salient point. But before we judge Arafat and Abbas, we need to look at the conflict, or more specifically, the ‘peace process’ and the negotiating positions of the two parties. Are we treating them as equals? And if so, should we be? I contend that we should but clearly are not doing so.

Let’s look at it like this. From the position of a negotiating party, the Israeli Prime Minister, whoever he may be, is the elected leader of a sovereign state with clearly delineated borders, a considerable standing army with impressive military capabilities including nuclear arms, recognised by most of the international community and with an unshakeable superpower backer. The head of the Palestinian Authority is a man with no state, little by way of guns, little by way of international recognition, little by way of backing and, nowadays it seems, little by way of local credibility among his supposed constituents. Moreover, of the issue they are negotiating over, the West Bank and Gaza strip, the former is occupied and controlled entirely and the latter is blockaded, squeezed and also controlled entirely by the Israeli Prime Minister. What the hell are they even negotiating over?

Clearly, from the Israeli perspective, the offer of a Palestinian state stands for two main reasons, long-term peace and security and being ‘the right thing to do’. But the former doesn’t seem an urgent need now to Israelis. There is a smattering of rockets still being fired, suicide bombings have been dead in the water (pardon the pun) and recognition by Arab states seems sort of irrelevant when Israel has economic agreements if not fully-fledged normalised relations with most of them anyway. So, to put it simply, there isn’t very much in it for Israel but there’s a whole damn lot in it for the Palestinians.

Perhaps you may then note that this means even moreso that the Israeli PM is doing the Palestinians some sort of favour out of the “goodness of his own heart.” Perhaps that is the case, but if the negotiations are to be taken seriously we have to assume that both parties are equally serious about them. That’s how negotiations work, that’s what they are by definition.

So what of all these tabled offers from the Israeli side? Let’s face it, the Israelis are the only ones that can *make* offers. They hold all the cards and all the chips and all the odds and all the other gambling analogies. They occupy, they control, they settle and they hold power. The Palestinian PM can offer little but non-violence, and since violence from the Palestinians isn’t much of a threat right now anyway, and the violence that *is* a threat may well be about of the PM’s control, it’s not much of an offer.

How then are we to judge the Palestinians walking away from the table as a crime of the highest order? As I said, if we are to view the peace process as legitimate we have to assume both parties are serious, this means we have to take both parties demands seriously. The Palestinians want halt to settlement, right of return, East Jerusalem as a capital, and a land link between the West Bank and Gaza as minimums. While I personally believe that right of return is not feasible, it’s still a legitimate issue that demands serious attention. In a negotiation, if one side makes an offer that the other is not happy with, the other has the right to walk away from it, especially if the other has a very tenuous grip on representation of his population (part of the reason why the whole peace process is majorly flawed). In the 2000 offer, I saw little to no mention of a land link between Gaza and the West Bank, and I am not entirely sure how much of East Jerusalem the Palestinians were suppose to get. The refugee issue was also sort of brushed over. In the more recent and recently leaked offer from Olmert to Abbas, I saw no mention of East Jerusalem or the Right of Return also. Perhaps I’ve missed something, if so, let me know.

But it’s not actually important what the details of the two agreements were. Arafat or Abbas not agreeing to a proposal from the Israelis should not be seen as a failure by default. It is a negotiation, any unilateral offer made can be rejected and a counteroffer needs to be negotiated. That’s how negotiations work. While the lack of follow-up on both proposals is regrettable, and that is something we can criticise the leaders over, it is not something to crucify them over either. If the Israeli PMs in question were serious about their offers, or if indeed the more important issue of their constituencies and Knessets were serious, then these offers can be retabled. No facts have changed on the ground apart from increased Israeli settlement, intensified blockade on Gaza and diminished Palestinian violence, all facts that should not work against the Palestinian side in negotiations.

So in conclusion, let’s keep in mind the following fact: while it is obvious that the only side capable of making a legitimate offer (because it holds all the cards) is the Israeli side, for negotiations to work, both sides need to be seen as equal players. If the Palestinians were to make an offer that the Israelis rejected, would you consider that Israeli PM to be a failure? No. We need to stop viewing an Israeli offer for a Palestinian state as some kind of charity, it is ‘the right thing to do’, but it is not charity. There is something in it for both sides, even if it comes down to a moral question. A state for the Palestinians is their right, it is not a gift bestowed upon them by a benevolent Israeli politician. Until we view it this way, the peace process can never be taken seriously.

Written by alexlobov

December 18, 2009 at 8:57 pm

Gilad Shalit, and Obama uses Israel as attack dog to scare Chinese

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photo credit: politicaltheatrics.net

Been a while since I last blogged, exams got the better of me and being in Sydney chilling has been counterproductive to blogging, but I’m back!

Despite discussions stalling somewhat and it now being said that a deal is more likely to take place after Eid al-Adha (Eid Mubarak to Muslims, by the way!) there have been reports of progress on the negotiations over the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap. Ismail Haniyeh even cancelled his Hajj! According to Haaretz, Israel is none too thrilled about certain prisoners that Hamas wants released:

Hamas is demanding, among other the prisoners, the release of Ibrahim Hamad, head of the group’s military wing in the Ramallah area, Abdallah Barghouti, a bomb engineer, and Abbas a-Sayad, the Hamas head in Tul Karm who planned the 2002 massacre during Passover in Netanya’s Park Hotel. These three prisoners are considered responsible for the murder of hundreds of Israelis.

Other names mentioned in the Arab media are Hassan Salame, who was involved in planning the suicide bus bombings in the mid ’90s, and Jamal Abu al-Hijla, head of Hamas in Jenin, who was convicted of taking part in planning and funding several suicide attacks during the second intifada.

Israel’s trepidation at having these prisoners freed is understandable, and the fact is, that political pressure from within Israel to have Shalit freed has been strong but not overwhelming so you can expect Israeli’s to hold out a while longer to get a better deal, politically especially (apparently having key suicide bombing planners freed can be harmful to one’s political standing). Most people are watching the fate of one Marwan Barghouti, considered a key possible successor to the increasingly beleaguered and probably-resigning Abu Mazen. You can expect Barghouti to be freed, Obama has been putting pressure on Netanyahu to make concessions that would bolster Fatah in the lead-up to PA elections and Abbas’ increasingly likely resignation.

The other major news is that during Obama’s visit to China, he put some pressure on the Chinese to do something about the whole Iran nuclear thing, which they have normally stayed clear out of (their policy of political non-involvement in the affairs of trading partners). The scare tactic used was the threat of Israel bombing Iran unilaterally (thus implying tacit US support) and the damage that would do to Iran as an energy source for China. The other scare tactic was the implication that other states could go nuclear, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, implying that Japan was another possibility (something China would not view kindly). [Thanks WashPo] [Check out a condensed report from Political Theatrics here.)

Antony Loewenstein is getting into a bit of a tizzy about it, suggesting that these talks imply Obama will certainly acquiesce to Israel bombing Iran, I disagree. While the jury is still out on how far Israel will go to defend against the ‘existential threat’ and how far the US will go in trying to stop them, I don’t think these statements to the Chinese should all be taken seriously. They are scare tactics and meant as such, Obama needs the Chinese to either support (or at least not veto) resolutions against Iran in the UN and given their mostly self-interested political philosophies, he needs to frighten them into submission. I mean a nuclear Egypt? Never happen. But bringing up a nuclear Japan is pretty damn scary, as is linking bombing Iran with energy security.

So here we have Obama clearly using Israel as an attack dog, or rather hinting at the possibility of it breaking its chains. Remember the Suez War in 56 when the British and French used Israel as an attack dog? Yeah, that didn’t end well for them.

Hamas-Fatah reconciliation looks distant, Abbas looks beleaguered

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Poor Mahmoud Abbas, with every day his irrelevance seems to be growing. Fatah have now admitted that a mistake has been made and that discussion of the Goldstone Report should not have been postponed. Could this be because everyone in Palestine is now baying for your blood, Abu Mazen? What I don’t understand is how Fatah could have not predicted this? Did they think bowing to US pressure and facing t he music at home would be less damaging? If so, what a mistake indeed. This is a government that sorely lacks legitimacy at home, and everyone knows that all politics is local.

So according to Haaretz, Abbas has instructed his envoy to resubmit a proposal for the document to be discussed at the UN Human Rights Council. The question is, will this happen? And does it matter to the PA if it does happen? By the looks of things this is being done purely for show anyway so even if they are rebuffed they can say that they tried… but too little too late it doth seem. Israeli Arab parties are calling for Abu Mazen to step down. Hamas have asked for the planned meeting between the two parties to be postponed until after Eid al-Adha, not surprising, as Hamas is now in some tizzy over what to do about this. Technically, no ballot can go ahead without reconciliation, and the impoverished and blockaded fief of Gaza is probably getting to be rather small. There’s also the whole ideology thing.

In his first speech in a while, Abbas also advocated a return to polling stations as a solution to the Hamas-Fatah conflict, this makes plenty of sense, I don’t think the two are even close to reconciling their differences, however such a move would probably not be very favourable for Abbas who is currently deeply unpopular. Is this just random belligerence?

Written by alexlobov

October 12, 2009 at 4:58 pm

Goldstone Report continues to stir, Third Intifada? Fall of Abbas?

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You will have to forgive me for flogging this Goldstone horse, but to me it seems a horse worthy of flogging.  It seems the first attempts by our Libyan saviour to hold a meeting to discuss the report have failed, though it’s possible the report will be discussed at the next meeting of the UNSC dedicated to The Middle East, which has been bumped up to October 14th. Apparently the report is “not on the agenda” at the meeting but “we have to assume” that our saviour will bring it up. Ah geez. So welcoming, y’all are.

Israel continues to stonewall the report, as it considers recalling it’s ambassador to Sweden in response to Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt’s remarks in support of it. Tensions have been inflamed further by Israel’s ambassador to the US Michael Oren’s recent piece for The New Republic, an empassioned appeal against Holocaust denying and the Goldstone report, linking the two in a bizarre and twisted emotionally charged cry that lacks much reason. Here’s a choice excerpt:

The Goldstone Report goes further than Ahmadinejad and the Holocaust deniers by stripping the Jews not only of the ability and the need but of the right to defend themselves. If a country can be pummeled by thousands of rockets and still not be justified in protecting its inhabitants, then at issue is not the methods by which that country survives but whether it can survive at all. But more insidiously, the report does not only hamstring Israel; it portrays the Jews as the deliberate murderers of innocents–as Nazis. And a Nazi state not only lacks the need and right to defend itself; it must rather be destroyed.

Opposition to this well-known craziness has come thick and fast of course. Sullivan’s response is a bit of a garbled rant but he does make the obvious point:

Seriously? No; the issue is whether Israel committed war crimes in its self-defense in Gaza and whether that self-defense was disproportionate to the threat it faced.

Yes, that is indeed the issue, Mr. Oren. Everyone serious, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad notwithstanding, has said many times, the Holocaust was a terrible thing and yes the Israeli state needs to defend itself, but if Mr. Oren thinks he can play the emotion card over the Holocaust to give Israel total impunity over its ‘defensive’ actions, then he isn’t very in tune with today’s political climate. Pretty much just as every Israeli response to this report in the past, it fails to actually address the issues raised by the report and descends into a beleaguered rant. Predictably, in Oren’s latest defense of his controversial piece, he has once again brought up the suggestion that the report could set a precedent and that the US could be put in the dock for civilian deaths in Afghanistan, seirously? Does no one have respect for international law and order around here? Is this a return to the Bush doctrine of unilateralism? Should any military power occupying and conducting a war on foreign soil be allowed to act with impunity of that war is “good” and “just”. Idiocy.

Photograph: Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP

Photograph: Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP

Meanwhile, commentators from all over the place have been declaring the report and the fallout from it a watershed moment in the Middle East and predicting various things from the fall of Abbas, electronic intifada rings his death knell via al Quds al Arabi…

This time, torrents of protest and outrage flowed from almost every direction. It was as if all the suppressed anger and grief about PA collaboration with Israel during the massacres in Gaza last winter suddenly burst through a dam. “The crime at Geneva cannot pass without all those responsible being held accountable,” the widely-read London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi stated in its lead editorial on 8 October. The newspaper called for the removal of Abbas and his associates who betrayed the victims of Israel’s massacres and “saved Israel from the most serious moral, political and legal crisis it has faced since its establishment.”

to the third intifada… heralded by a rather amusingly old-school journo-orientalist article in the Telegraph (“winding alleyways of the old city”, “dozens of muslim men gathered to vent their frustration”, etc.)

and possibly a new Ice Age? Well maybe not the latter.

Ari Shavit for Haaretz contributes some ridiculous and frightening thoughts to the mix, suggesting that Israel “must exercize (sic) force once every few years” to “prevent the region’s deterioration into complete chaos.” Ohhhh I get it now… so Israel has to bomb the living daylights out of Arabs in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank in order to keep the peace! War for peace! Yes it all makes sense now! Who cares that thousands of civilians are dead, it’s for the peace process, man!

These limited demonstrations of power do not achieve a decisive military victory or a breakthrough in the peace process.

Their entire purpose is to stabilize the violent relationship between Israelis and Arabs. Thus they create a temporary, strong-arm balance that subdues the conflict and ensures calm for a few years.

For better or worse, Operation Cast Lead created such a balance. It weakened Hamas and deterred it, at a terrible human cost. It strengthened the moderate Palestinians and enabled them to grow, at an intolerable moral cost.

By “moderate Palestinians”, I assume Shavit is referring to Israel’s favourite house Arab, Abu Mazen, then I don’t think he’s been “strengthened” at all. His legitimacy is at an all time low. In fact, if Shavit thinks that somehow bombing the crap out of Palestinians with the acquiscence of their supposed leadership is supposed to strengthen said leadership then… well… he’s an idiot, really. He goes further to describe the “violent relationship between Israelis and Arabs” as “a strong arm balance”. What balance? Crude rockets against the Middle East’s best military and a crippling blockade is supposed to be a balance? Starving people in abject poverty and denying them power and medicine, a balance? But wait theres more:

The Goldstone report would never have been written without the joint work, joint bias and joint Israel-hatred of all the Goldstoners. Thus the report reflects both the Goldstoners’ holy fury and their complete belief that the Palestinians can do no wrong.

That belief is now endangering not only Israel but calm and stability. In their fanaticism and extremism, Goldstone and the Goldstoners have brought us closer to bloodshed.

The most amusing and scary part of this is that, to Shavit, “bloodshed” is an intifada or a Six-Day War, it’s one which involves significant Israeli casualties. Shavit does not recognise 1400 Palestinians dead during Operation Cast Lead as “bloodshed” because he doesn’t see Palestinians as humans capable of shedding blood that’s worth something. The claim that by analysing Israel’s actions during a war is bad because it will somehow lead to more war is so ridiculous that I wonder why Haaretz printed it. Seriously guys? This is what you could come up with?

Will wrap up this post by suggesting y’all look further at that electronic intifada piece because it has some very interesting thoughts on the bind that Hamas is now in, in terms of figuring out its response to the Goldstone Report and Abu Mazen’s capitulation.

Abbas helps bury the Goldstone Report, then regrets it.

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Muammar Qaddafi - Renewed Champion of the Palestinian cause on the Security Council? Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters
Muammar Qaddafi – Renewed Champion of the Palestinian cause on the Security Council? Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters

In the wake of the Goldstone Report, things were meant to be done! Action was meant to be taken! Perpetrators were meant to be put in the dock and have had various parts of them chopped off! Or something of that order… but surprisingly (I know I know, I’m just as surprised as the rest of you) that hasn’t quite happened. And it’s the usual suspects behind the not happening. We reported earlier that both Israel & the US condemned the report. But surely not the Palestinians right? RIGHT? Wrong.

It seems that Abu Mazen et al., have decided to be the good Israeli/US ‘running dogs’ that they are and help stonewall the report further:

Last week, Abbas withdrew Palestinian support for a vote in the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to have the report sent to the UN General Assembly for possible action. Such a vote would have been a first of many steps toward possible war crimes tribunals.

With the Palestinians out of the picture, the council set the report aside for six months. [Haaretz]

Now you may rightfully ask, has the old fool lost all his marbles? Why would he do something so crazy? I mean, isn’t this a chance for the international community to have a legitimate opportunity to see and assess the horrors that were committed in Gaza? Isn’t this a chance for the Palestinians to have some justice over the, you know, war crimes? Aren’t war crimes bad? If you are asking these questions, my friend, you are not very well versed in Middle Eastern politics. According to Abbas, the reason is as follows:

Abbas’ aides have defended the step, saying the Palestinians needed more time to win international support for the U.N. report. They said deferring action did not mean burying the report. [Haaretz]

The Palestinians, not being happy about this, have been raising hell on the streets:

With every day, there were more protests, marches and statements of condemnations, not only from his Hamas rivals, but also from human rights groups and intellectuals.

In Gaza, public outrage at Abbas reached a new level on Wednesday, when hundreds of posters criticizing the Palestinian president appeared in public areas around Gaza City.

The text on one poster under an Abbas photo read: To the dumps of history, you traitor, Mahmoud Abbas. Another had a big, black X over Abbas’ face. [Haaretz]

Having realised that this self-righteous anger could possibly damage his political prospects, Abu Mazen and his Fatah cohort have taken a few steps back, including admitting they’ve made “a mistake”, trying to lobby the Security Council through this man, naming and shaming countries who block the report (the horror!) and asking other Arab countries to push it through.

Norman Finkelstein seems to think there’s an altogether different reason, namely the Israelis having some audio evidence of the PA same some things that are decidedly not pro-the-Palestinian-cause, like… you know… being excited about the murder of more Palestinian children:

…a series of tapes in which Palestinian Authority officials could be heard urging Israel to continue the operation in Gaza. Israel threatened to reveal the material to media outlets as well as to the UN and this, in turn, resulted in the Palestinian retreat. It was further claimed that the Palestinians were shown footage showing a meeting between Abu Mazen, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and then foreign minister Tzippi Livni. In the course of the meeting, according to the report, Abu Mazen attempted to convince Barak to continue the operation. Barak appeared hesitant whereas Abu Mazen was enthusiastic. In addition, a telephone conversation recording between Abed Al-Rahim, secretary general of the Palestinian Authority and director of Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi’s bureau was presented. The Palestinian senior official can be heard saying that now is the time to bring ground forces into the Jabalya and Shati refugee camps. “The fall of these two camps will bring about the fall of the Hamas regime in Gaza, and will cause them to wave a white flag,” says Abed Al-Rahim. According to the report, Dov Weissglas told Abed Al-Rahim that such a move could result in the deaths of thousands of civilians. “They all voted for Hamas,” says Abed Al-Rahim, “they chose their fate, not us.”

Good point Abed! Gaza’s children are not Palestinian children, they are Hamas children, the spawn of Satan himself. They are either Hamas voters already, Hamas sympathisers or have Hamas tattooed on their backsides from birth. At best they’re collateral damage. Welcome to the ‘politics’ of the Middle East, ladies & gentelmen.

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